Harris County Historical Commission Summer News!
COLUMN SUMMER 2012
Texas A&M has three terrific books hot off the press: an accounting of a life-changing school disaster in East Texas; an updated biography of William Marsh Rice in this, the university's, centennial year; and an update of the fast-growing Hispanic community in Houston.
My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1937 New London School Explosion, by Ron Rozelle, is an excellent telling of the worst school disaster in the history of the United States. A spark ignited a pool of natural gas beneath this East Texas school, killing more than 300 people - most of them children. The event was so awful that it led the Texas Legislature to pass two strong bills: 1) the faintly repulsive odorant that's now put in natural gas; and 2) the requirement that anyone working with gas line connections be trained and certified as an engineer. It was Walter Cronkite's first big story - and one, he later said, that was more heart wrenching than any war story he ever covered. The New London School explosion was front-page news for awhile, but faded as Amelia Earhart and World War II took over the headlines. But it never left the memory of the survivors. Rozelle said his father went there to help on the night of the disaster, but he could never talk about it. In fact, Rozelle decided to write the story in order to find out what actually happened - and he tells it so well that it moved this writer to tears.
William Marsh Rice c. 1890
William Marsh Rice and his Institute: The Centennial Edition.
Rice - the name - is ubiquitous in Houston, but this book fleshes out a fascinating man we know too little about, the second son of the 10 children born to David and Patty Rice of Massachusetts. Rice was an entrepreneur who cleared $2,000 in his first business venture before he was 20. He came to Texas in 1838, made a huge fortune in his 25 years here, and managed to come out of the Civil War still wealthy. He became a resident of New York in 1865, but often returned to Houston on business. Among his friends here were Cesar Lombardi and Emanuel Raphael, president and trustee, respectively, of the Houston School Board. Both encouraged the childless millionaire to give money to improve Houston's schools, but Rice felt that the city should assume responsibility for its own public education system. However, the idea of education must have struck a note, because he later revealed plans to endow a "public library and institute for the advancement of literature, science and art" in Houston. At first he set aside $200,000 for the project, but he later changed his mind and left it most of his fortune - $4.6 million. Captain James A. Baker, Jr. filed the papers of incorporation in Austin in 1891. Bringing Rice's bequest to reality meant contesting the second Mrs. Rice's will and solving the mystery of his murder. (He died in 1900.) Rice left few instructions for implementing his wishes. The trustees turned to many eminent educators for advice, including Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton. Wilson recommended a young man in his 30s - Edgar Odell Lovett, head of Princeton's department of mathematics and astronomy. And the rest is history. Sylvia Stallings Morris Lowe wrote the first edition of this book in 1972 from notes accumulated by Andrew Forest Muir. Randal L. Hall, the editor of this excellent centennial edition, is a Rice graduate, adjunct associate professor of history at the school and managing editor of the Journal of Southern History.
Del Pueblo: A History of Houston's Hispanic Community.
In this book, the author, Thomas Kreneck, updates and revises the 1989 edition of the book he wrote while at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, an archivist responsible for developing the library's Mexican American component. It relates the rise of Houston's Hispanic population from virtually zero in 1836 (despite the heroism of native-born Tejanos such as Juan Seguin) to a stunning 37.4 percent of the Houston population today - its fastest growing ethnic group. Unlike cities settled by Spanish/Mexican colonists, such as San Antonio, Houston was marked by Old South culture and 19th Century American westward expansion. But worsening political and economic conditions south of the border, leading up to the 1910 Mexican Revolution, and the emergence of Houston as a dominant economic center made the city increasingly a destination for Mexicans looking for work. In Del Pueblo, Kreneck outlines the discrimination immigrants faced, the development of barrios and the building of communities within Houston, the mix of gente of different national backgrounds, problems with undocumented workers, outstanding leaders, education, cultural acceptance and influence as fully participating urban dwellers. This is a well-written, well-researched, useful book.
Ann Malone and Dan Becker signing their book at the La Porte Depot
"Around LaPorte", by Ann Malone and Dan Becker (Acadia Publishing, 2012). This photographic journey covers the City of LaPorte and environs is loaded with historic events and personalities. It was settled ten years before Texas won its independence from Mexico, was I ncorporated in 1892, and today includes the cities of Morgan's Point, Shoreacres and Lomax. LaPorte was home to Gen. Sidney Sherman, Gov. Ross Sterling, Andrew Jackson Houston and James Morgan. The beauty of the area has attracted legions of summer visitors, and Texas oil millionaires built summer homes there. Today, LaPorte is a mix of small-town living and big-city amenities. Available on line at http://www.texasbooks.net/, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Notes: Kate Kirkland's biography of Rice's attorney, Captain James A. Baker of Houston, 1857-1941, (also Texas A&M Press) will be available at local bookstores on September 20, and John Boles' update of Edgar Odell Lovett and the Creation of Rice University is already out. Rice niversity: One Hundred Years in Pictures, sponsored by the Rice Historical Society, should be in bookstores by October. Finally, arowd-sourced book is in development by the "Houston It's Worth It" team.
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Sculpture Honors Tejanos on Capitol Grounds
An irregular pink granite base, seemingly a natural outcropping on the State Capitol Grounds, supports ten bronze figures that tell the story of the Spanish, Mexican and Tejano presence in Texas from 1519. The highest figure is an explorer, then a vaquero on his Spanish mustang, a longhorn cow and bull, and a ranching family. The idea for the monument came from McAllen physician Cayetano Barrera, who visited the Capitol in 2000 and asked, "Where is the first 300 years of Texas history?" Laredo native Armando Hinojosa began working on the sculpture in 2003. The sculpting didn't last a decade, he noted, but the Legislative process did. It took three bills to approve the monument and its placement at the front gate of the Capitol, as well as an appropriation of more than $1 million - which was matched by contributions from a few foundations and many corporations, businesses and individuals. Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Sen. Judith Zaffirini and others spoke at the dedication. Rep. Richard Pena Raymond commented: "The monument seems to have always been here: perhaps it is because we have always been here."
The GLO's third annual symposium, The Civil War in Texas: Death, Disease and Minieballs, is Saturday, September 1, at the Thompson Conference Center, University of Texas in Austin. The $50 fee includes parking; lunch is optional. Speakers include: Rick McCaslin and Alexander Mendoza from University of North Texas; Don Frasier and Robert Maberry from McMurry University; Jerry Thompson from Texas A&M; and Houston attorney Ed Cotham. For additional information, visit www.savetexashistory.org or http://www.glo.texas.gov/.
THC Honors Firefighters
The Governor's Award recipients here, representing three of TPWD's firefighting teams, are, from left to right: Robert Crossman, Jeff Sparks, Gov. Perry, THC Chair Sheri Krause, Glen Gillman, Michael Lloyd, David Riskind, and Greg Creacy. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.
The prestigious Governor's Award for Historic Preservation was presented by Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Historical Commission to six members of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's Wildland Firefighting Team for their heroic efforts in state parks during last year's severe drought.
The fires began in April in Possum Kingdom, threatened the Davis Mountains, then broke out near Bastrop, a site with National Historic Landmark designation. All three parks were developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The more than 100 people who fought these fires managed to save most of the CCC buildings. "They saved both lives and part of our history while risking their own lives and comfort in unimaginable conditions," said Gov. Perry.
Greater Houston Preservation Alliance
Ramona Davis, Executive Director
The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance has a new name, a new home, and a new logo. But its mission to preserve and appreciate Houston's architectural and cultural historic HHresources remains the same as at its founding 34 years ago. No change in staff; no change in membership. GHPA operated in offices in the JPMorgan Chase Building downtown since 1987. The move was precipitated when Chase sold the historic building that many know as the Gulf Building.
"We'll always be grateful to Chase Bank and its predecessor, Texas Commerce Bank, for donating GHPA's office space for more than 20 years," said executive director Ramona Davis. "It will feel strange not going to work in that gorgeous historic building, but change is good. Today our work is more nuanced. The interests of the Old Sixth Ward Historic District are not necessarily the same as the Broadacres Historic District."
New information is: Preservation Houston 3272 Westheimer, Suite 2 Houston, TX 77019 Telephone: 713 510 3990 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web address: http://www.preservationhouston.org/
Trader Joe's to open in Alabama Theater
Specialty grocer Trader Joe's, a quirky, California-based specialty food chain, will open three stores this year in the Houston area - one in the historic Alabama Theater, at 2922 South Shepherd. Preservation Houston has focused public attention on the theater since 2006, when it heard that it was to be demolished. The group ramped up its efforts in 2010, when plans to gut the building for a warehouse-style office supply store were revealed. Today, Trader Joe's expects to incorporate some of the theater's remaining interior elements - its signature murals were demolished in 2011.
Tijerina Marker Rededicated
The Harris County Historical Commission presided over the rededication of a Texas state historical marker honoring Felix Tijerina in February, at the site of his flagship restaurant at 904 Westheimer (now Uchi, a Japanese restaurant). Young Felix immigrated to Texas from Mexico in 1915, found a job as a busboy, took English classes at night, and opened the first "Felix Mexican Restaurant" in 1937. He was national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) from 1954 until 1960, during which time LULAC spread from five councils to a truly nationwide organization. He also implemented the "Little Schools of the 400" program, which taught Spanish-speaking children a core vocabulary of 400 English words before they entered first grade.
Shumate heads a combined Houston Public Media
Lisa Trapani Shumate, an Emmy Award-winning veteran of the television industry who has been a member of management with both CBS affiliate KHOU and KTRK/TV/ABC 13, has been named executive director and general manager of a new umbrella organization that combines the operations of public radio stations KUHF-FM and KUHA-FM and public television station KUHT (Channel 8). Houston Public Media is located in the Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting on the University of Houston campus. It has an annual budget of $25 million, 165 staff members and 65,000 individual contributors. Shumate reports to UofH Provost John Antel. Previously, she was with the Belo organization as director of programming and marketing for KHOU-TV, and, earlier, as statewide sales and marketing manager. Before that, she spent eleven years with KTRK, rising from anchor to manager of marketing and special projects. In 2010, she won a community service Emmy for "Star of Hope for the Holidays."
At the TSHA's annual meeting in March, Fort Worth physician Watson C. Arnold assumed the 2012-2013 presidency, Gregg Cantrell moved up to first vice president, and John L. Nau, III was elected second vice president. New faces joining the board of directors are: Mary Margaret McAllen Amberson, San Antonio; Jane Cook Barnhill, Brenham; James H. Clement, Jr., Dallas; Lynn Denton, Austin; Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dallas; and Emilio Zamora, Austin.
JP Bryan, 2012 TSHA Fellow
The society also named three 2012 Fellows who have excelled in Texas history research, teaching and scholarship. Harris County's own J. P. Bryan of Houston, for his development and dissemination of Texas history; Cynthia E. Orozco, chair of the history and humanities department at Eastern New Mexico University, an influential figure in Mexican American scholarship; and Frances Brannen Vick of Dallas, recognized for writing, editing and publishing.
The 117th Annual Meeting will be on February 28-March 2, 2013, at the Renaissance Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth.
Biographical information is posted at http://www.tshaonline.org/.
Texas Institute of Letters Awards
Stephen Harrigan of Austin won the Texas Institute of Letters' Jesse H. Jones Fiction award for his novel, Remember Ben Clayton, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Houstonian Steven Fenberg won the Carr P. Collins prize for nonfiction for his biography of Jesse H. Jones. Entitled Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good, it was published by Texas A&M University Press. Gary Cartwright received the Lon Tinkle award for his distinguished career in letters associated with Texas. Cartwright, who has published novels and nonfiction books and written screenplays, is perhaps best known for his four-decade-long association with Texas Monthly. These and thirteen other winners split the $22,000 in prize money that was distributed at the 76th annual meeting of the organization in San Antonio at the Menger Hotel on April 14. The Texas Institute of Letters recognizes literary achievement and promotes interest in Texas literature.
Pomeroy is first "Hero of San Jacinto"
C. David Pomeroy, Jr., a member of our Harris County Historical Commission, a founding member of the San Jacinto Conservancy, an active member in virtually every historical group pertaining to Houston and Pasadena, and a meticulous Texas history writer and scholar, has been dubbed by the Conservancy as its first "Hero of San Jacinto" - for these very reasons. Pomeroy, a fourth generation Pasadenan, is an attorney who manages the family oil and gas business - a company begun in 1895 by his great-grandfather to drill water wells. Through his efforts, the Pomeroy Homestead was donated to the City of Pasadena as a museum. It is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Pomeroy wrote Pasadena, The Early Years; his research on the location of Vince's Bridge was published in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly; he has written two articles in the New Handbook of Texas, and he is a Colonel in the Texas Army.
Houston History Association
Building Houston: From Allen's Landing to the Moon is the theme for HHA's second annual conference. It's to be held at the Hilton-University of Houston Hotel & Conference Center, University of Houston, on Saturday, June 2, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mayor Annise Parker will open the conference, and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett will deliver the keynote remarks during lunch. Speakers will explore how Houston emerged from the primitive settlement of its founding in 1836 to become the international city it is today. Visit www.houstonhistoryassociation.org for details about speakers/topics and to register. Registration includes lunch and parking. The early bird fee is $50; May 16-May 25 is $65; on-site sign-up is $75, if space allows.
From October 10-14, 2012, Rice University celebrates its centennial and the remarkable journey that has transformed "a bold little institution on the edge of a prairie to an international university on the cutting edge of education and research," said President David W. Leebron.
A gazillion activities are planned for the five days in October, but some have already begun. Banners with snapshots of life at Rice over the past century now hang everywhere on campus (map and listing: http://centennial.rice.edu/banners.aspx); students are already posting opinions on the web. Thousands attended an UnConvention in April - an "open campus" with tours, demonstrations, concerts, lectures, athletic events, art exhibits and more. A Texas State historical marker will be
dedicated in September. More is on tap. Scant highlights are listed below. Oh, and there will be I-phone tour guides. Log on to http://centennial.rice.edu/ for current schedules and ticket information. Check http://publicart.rice.edu/ for more about the art.
Oct. 10 (Wed.): The Centennial Lecture Series will feature world-famous speakers in an evening of short talks emceed by President Leebron.
Oct. 11 (Thur.): Centennial Lecture Series speakers will present individual in-depth lectures with Q&A throughout the day, on topics ranging from bioscience to energy to the built environment. That evening there will be a world premiere performance of William Bolcom's newly-commissioned Ninth Symphony: A Short Symphony in One Movement. Bolcom is a National Medal of Art, Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award winner.
Oct. 12 (Fri. - actual birthday): academic procession in the academic quadrangle to a keynote address by President Leebron (harking back to Founding President Edgar Odell Lovett's speech at the formal opening in 1912); picnic on campus; panel of university presidents; and a student research and civic engagement poster session.
Oct. 13 (Sat.): Dedication of bronze sculpture of Edgar Odell Lovett, by Californian Bruce Wolfe, at Keck Hall. Wolfe has chosen to create the thirty-something Lovett who came to Texas, a young man just back from a world tour, full of big ideas for a new institution.
Tours of public art on campus, including new works by James Turrell and Jaume Plensa. Turrell's "Skyspace" is a pyramid-like performance/contemplation venue located between Shepherd School of Music and the Jones School of Business. Plensa's "Mirror," two 12-foot-tall human figures made of white steel letters, face each other under the trees near Herring Hall.
Class reunion events followed by a football game (Rice vs. UT-San Antonio).
Oct. 14 (Sun.): a chamber concert in Shepherd School.